On our Easter Sunday today, my beloved Plutonia and I watched the epic story of the Resurrection told through the eyes of a non-believing Roman soldier, the 2016 film RISEN, which made me want to share with you all, the grandest “Hallelujah” chorus:
Handel composed Messiah without getting much sleep or even eating much food. When his assistants brought him his meals, they were often left uneaten. His servants would often find him in tears as he composed. When he completed “Hallelujah,” he reportedly told his servant, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of Angels.”
Although the first performance in Dublin on April 13, 1742, was a huge success, Messiah wasn’t met with the same excitement in London the following season. Six scheduled performances were cancelled by Handel in 1743, Messiah was completely removed from the 1744 schedule, and it wasn’t performed in London until 1749.
In another reversal of fortunes, London’s Foundling Hospital held a fundraising concert, where Handel performed a mix of new music and well as older pieces including the “Hallelujah” chorus. At the time, Messiah was still somewhat unknown to London audiences, but the concert was so well received that Handel was invited back the next year, where he performed the entire Messiah oratorio. Performances of Messiah became an Eastertime tradition at the Foundling Hospital until the 1770s. Earnings from many early performances of the oratorio were used to help the poor, needy, orphaned, widowed, and sick.
Each person’s life is like a mandala – a vast, limitless circle. We stand in the center of our own circle, and everything we see, hear and think forms the mandala of our life. We enter a room, and the room is our mandala. We get on the subway, and the subway car is our mandala, down to the teenager checking messages on her iPhone and the homeless man slumped in the corner. We go for a hike in the mountains, and everything as far as we can see is our mandala: the clouds, the trees, the snow on the peeks, even the rattlesnake coiled in the corner. We’re lying in a hospital bed, and the hospital is our mandala. We don’t set it up, we don’t get to choose what or who shows up in it. It is, as Chogyam Trungpa said, “the mandala that is never arranged but is always complete.” And we embrace it just as it is.
Everything that shows up in your mandala is a vehicle for your awakening. From this point of view, awakening is right at your fingertips continually. There’s not a drop of rain or a pile of dog poop that appears in your life that isn’t the manifestation of enlightened energy, that isn’t a doorway to sacred world. But it’s up to you whether your life is a mandala of neurosis or a mandala of sanity.
In one salutation to thee, my God,
let all my senses spread out
and touch this world at thy feet.
Like a rain-cloud of July
hung low with its burden of unshed showers,
let all my mind bend down at thy door
in one salutation to thee.
Let all my songs
gather together their diverse strains
into a single current
and flow to a sea of silence
in one salutation to thee.
Like a flock of homesick cranes
flying night and day
back to their mountain nests,
let all my life take its voyage
to its eternal home
in one salutation to thee.
put to music by Ēriks Ešenvalds
performed to perfection by two amazing choirs:
Oh remover of all ignorances, may I be born again and again as a servant of servants of your devotees who surrendered themselves at your lotus feet. May my mind always remember your glories, and my body and speech always serve you.
I am not interested in any of the worldly pleasures or greatest positions or in having control over the universe or being emperor of all elements or getting any occult yogic powers or attaining liberation. May I always remember you without missing any moment.
Like a baby bird who helplessly cries to see its missing mother, like a calf tied away from mother cow crying hungry for milk, like a loving wife who is eagerly waiting for her husband who has gone somewhere, my mind (heart) too is eager for seeing you, my lord with beautiful lotus eyes!
Due to the actions of my previous births, even though I may be caught in cycle of birth and rebirth, may I be blessed to be in the company of your devotees who recite your glories and whose hearts are always filled with you. Due to your illusive power, I may be born and get attached to my body, have relationship with spouse and children and material things, but with your grace, please bless me to be in the company of your devotees and keep my heart fixed on you.
Thus ends the Vritrasura Chathusloki (Vritra’s prayer)
in canto 6, chapter 11 of Srimad Bhagavatham.
What Happens If You Stop Talking To Yourself All The Time
Now, it’s amazing what doesn’t exist in the real world.
For example, in the real world there aren’t any things. Nor are there any events.
That doesn’t mean to say that the the real world is a perfect featureless blank. It means that it is a marvellous system of wiggles, in which we descry things, and events, in the same way as we would project images on a Rorschach blot, or pick out particular groups of stars in the sky and call them constellations, as if they were separate groups of stars! Well, they’re groups of stars in the mind’s eye, in our system of concepts. They are not “out there”, as constellations, already grouped in the sky!
So in the same way, the difference between myself and all the rest of the universe, is nothing more than an idea. It is not a real difference.
And meditation is the way in which we come to feel our basic inseparability from the whole universe. And what that requires is; that we; shut; up.
That is to say, that we become interiorly silent and cease from the interminable chatter that goes on inside our skulls. Because, you see, most of us think compulsively all the time. That is to say, we talk to ourselves. I remember when I was a boy, we had a common saying, “Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness”. Now, obviously, if I talk all the time, I don’t hear what anyone else has to say. And so in exactly the same way, if I think all the time –that is to say, if by talk to myself all the time– I don’t have anything to think about except thoughts! And therefore I’m living entirely in the world of symbols. And I’m never in relationship with reality.
Alright, now that’s the first basic reason for meditation.
But there is another sense, and this is gonna be a little bit more difficult to understand, why we could say, that meditation doesn’t have a reason; or doesn’t have a purpose, and in this respect, it’s unlike almost all other things that we do, except perhaps making music and dancing. Because when we make music, we don’t do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music, to get to the end of the piece, then obviously the fastest players would be the best! And so likewise when we are dancing, we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor, as we would be if we were taking a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point; when we play music, the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation.
Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at, in the immediate moment. And therefore, if you meditate for an ulterior motive, that is to say, to improve your mind, to improve your character, to be more efficient in life, you’ve got your eye on the future and you are not meditating. Because the future is a concept. It doesn’t exist. As the proverb says, “Tomorrow never comes”. There is no such thing as “tomorrow”, and never will be! Because time is always Now. And that’s one of the things we discover when we stop talking to ourselves, and stop thinking; we find there is only a Present, only an eternal Now.
So, it’s funny then, isn’t it, that one meditates for no reason at all; except, we could say, for the enjoyment of it. And here I would interpose the essential principle that meditation is supposed to be fun! It’s not something you do as a grim duty. The trouble with religion as we know it, is that it is so mixed up with grim duties! We do it because it’s good for you; it’s a kind of self-punishment, while meditation, when correctly done, has nothing to do with all of that. It’s a kind of digging the present; it’s a kind of grooving with the eternal Now, and brings us into a state of peace, where we can understand that the point of life, the place where it’s at, is simply here and now.
The easiest way to get into the meditative state, is to begin by listening.
If you simply close your eyes, and allow yourself to hear all the sounds that are going on around you, just listen to the general buzz and hum of the world, as if you were listening to music. Don’t try to identify the sounds you’re hearing; don’t put names on them; simply allow them to play with your eardrums. And; let them; go.
In other words you could put it, let your ears hear whatever they want to hear. Don’t judge the sounds… There are no, as it were, proper sounds, or improper sounds; and it doesn’t matter if somebody coughs, or sneezes, or drops something… It’s all just sound.
And if I am talking to you right now, and you are doing this, I want you to listen to the sound of my voice, [it’s worth doing it and actually my transcription humbly serves to lead you also to Mr Watts’ voice -Leon] just as if it were noise. Don’t try to make any sense out of what I am saying, because your brain will take care of that automatically; you don’t have to try to understand anything; just listen to the sound.
As you pursue that experiment, you will very naturally find that you can’t help naming sounds, identifying them; that you will go on thinking –that is, talking to yourself inside your head– automatically. But it’s important that you don’t try to repress those thoughts by forcing them out of your mind. Because that will have precisely the same effect as if you were trying to smooth rough water with a flat iron; you’re just going to disturb it all the more.
What you do is this. As you hear sound coming up in your head –thoughts–, you simply listen to them as part of the general noise going on, just as you would be listening to the sound of my voice, or just as you would be listening to cars going by, or to birds chattering outside the window.
So look at your own thoughts as just noises. And soon you will find, that the so-called outside world, and the so-called inside world, come together. They are a’happening. You thoughts are a’happening, just like the sounds going on outside, and everything is simply a’happening. And all you’re doing is watching it.
Now, in this process, another thing that is happening that is very important, is that you’re breathing. And as you start meditation, you allow your breath to run, just as it wills. In other words, don’t do at first any breathing exercise, but just watch your breath breathing the way it wants to breathe.
And then notice a curious thing about this.
You say in the ordinary way “I breathe”, because you feel that breathing is something that you are doing, voluntarily, just in the same way as you might be walking, or talking. But you will also notice, that when you are not thinking about breathing, your breathing goes on just the same. So the curious thing about breath is, that it can be looked at, both as a voluntary, and an involuntary action. You can feel on the one hand “I am doing it”, and on the other hand “It is happening to me”.
And that is why breathing is the most important part of meditation. Because it is going to show you, as you become aware of your breath, that the hard and fast division that we make, between what we do, on the one hand, and what happens to us, on the other, is arbitrary. So that as you watch your breathing, you will become aware that both the voluntary and the involuntary aspects of your experience, are all one happening.
Now, that may at first seem a little scary, because you may think, “Well, am I just the puppet of the happening? The mere passive witness of something that’s going on completely beyond my control?” Or, on the other hand, “Am I really doing everything that’s going along? Well if I were, I should be God! And that would be very embarrassing, because I would be in charge of everything and that would be a terribly responsible position!”
The truth of the matter, as you will see it, is that both things are true. You can see it that everything is happening to you, and on the other hand, you’re doing everything.
For example. It’s your eyes that turn the Sun into light; it’s the nerve ends in your skin that are turning electric vibrations in the air into heat and temperature; it’s your eardrums that are turning vibrations in the air into sound, and in that way, you are creating the world.
But, when we are not talking about it, when we are not philosophizing about it, then there is just this happening; this… ah…
[the sound of a little gong is heard as he gently hits it]
… and we won’t give it a name.
Alan Watts transcribed by Leon Hieros